Tuesday, February 7, 2023
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Bureaucracy intact in Indian military. DMA only brings ill-advised orders for armed forces

CDS Rawat-led Department of Military Affairs is trying to fix measures for habitat and infrastructure projects of the armed forces. But its measures signal far-reaching reforms.

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A cryptic letter dated 18 March 2020, issued by the newly created Department of Military Affairs, appeared on social media platforms last week. It gave the first formal indication of some “concrete reforms” being initiated by the department headed by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat.

The subject of the letter was about the optimisation measures to be adopted with respect to Annual Major Works Programme, which covers the habitat and infrastructure-related construction projects of the three services of the armed forces — Army, Navy and Air Force. But the measures specified in the letter, by implication, indirectly signalled far-reaching reforms to ensure economy of expenditure and reduction of manpower. The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) has not denied the letter.

The DMA letter is a typical example of bureaucratic approach wherein the need for economy of expenditure is viewed in isolation, disregarding a host of other factors and operational efficiency eventually leading to higher expenditure.

As per the optimisation measures, there should be one officer mess per station instead of 15-20 at the scale of one per unit; scale of Junior Commissioned Officers’ clubs should be reduced to 50 per cent of authorised strength; the number of cook houses for ‘Other Ranks’ should be reduced to only two per unit instead of four-five authorised per subunit of 125-150 soldiers; medical inspection rooms/other ranks’ institutes/family welfare centres/weapon simulator rooms to be planned on the scale of one per station instead of one per major unit; armoured vehicle garages to be in tin sheds instead of concrete structures; and wheeled vehicles to be parked in temporary tin sheds.

It is not known whether a separate policy letter has been issued covering the manpower  and expenditure saved as a result of the above-mentioned optimisation measures, the implications for transition from peace to field/mobilisation for battle, and whether these measures are only for future works or part of overall reforms.


Also read: Three pitfalls of CDS, Dept of Military Affairs and why it should make us sceptical


Officers, JCOs, and OR messes

Units and formations in the armed forces are organised and structured to operationally and administratively operate as self-reliant independent entities with focus on deployment for war at a short notice. Given our threat scenarios and operational strategy even from peace stations, units and formations are expected to mobilise within 24 hours during war times and also conduct annual rehearsals and collective training closer to operational areas.

The dining of officers, JCOs and Other Ranks is organised in officers’ messes, JCOs’ messes/clubs and dining halls with attached cook houses respectively. In operational areas and in battle, except for unit headquarters, all ranks are dependent on common cook houses. The officers’ messes and JCO clubs also house the bachelor officers/JCOs or those living without families in peace stations. The officers’ messes, and to some extent the JCO messes, have also become the repository of unit traditions in form of trophies, memorabilia and archives.

As for older units, these institutions have become virtual museums. They also reflect the hierarchy of rank structure, and attendant perks/privileges, which are part of military culture and functioning. Other Ranks’ dining halls are also organised to promote sub-unit ethos and optimising the numbers at the scale of 100-150 soldiers beyond which these are difficult to manage.

Over the last 50 years, most modern armies have done away with officers’ messes and JCO/sergeant’ messes on financial grounds and to promote egalitarianism. Even the British Army, from which we inherited this culture, is in the process of introducing radical reforms such as doing away with the regimental system and the mess culture. To this extent, there is a case to shut down the officers’ messes/JCO clubs and have an optimum, common number of messes for all ranks in each unit.

However, the benefit of this reform has to be weighed against the adverse effect on traditions, ethos and culture of the Indian armed forces. Also, the peacetime structures have to adapt to field/battle conditions at 24-hour notice keeping in mind our threats and strategy. It may be mentioned that similar optimisation with respect to officers’ messes was tried in the early 1970s only to be given up.


Also read: Not media, CDS Rawat should be talking to military chiefs about India’s defence reform


Optimisation on station basis

Apart from the institutions mentioned above, the optimisation of other institutions and facilities on station basis has to be examined keeping in mind the number of soldiers, travel time within the station, and field/battle requirements.

Other Ranks institutes, medical inspection rooms, and simulator infrastructure can easily be optimised as per station or sector basis. In some armies, officers’ clubs and Other Ranks institutes have been done away with on financial grounds and availability and affordability of commercial facilities. However, in our context, security constraints have to be kept in mind as well.

Garages for equipment

It is a popular military dictum that it is not the gun but the man behind the gun that matters most in a battle. But the best soldier is of no use if the gun is in a poor functional state.

The specifications of buildings and garages for storage and maintenance of costly military equipment have been scientifically laid down. Any tinkering with these specifications will be at the cost of reducing the life of the equipment and a classic case of being paisa wise and rupee foolish.

There is some merit in parking non-specialist wheeled vehicles in the open or in temporary sheds, but for specialist and armoured vehicles, and other combat equipment, it is best to adhere to scientific specifications.


Also read: Modi govt’s CDS is big reform, but this is what the charter lacks


Flawed method for reform

Fifty years ago, due to shortage of accommodation, a large number of units were housed in temporary tents. Soon, the cost of replacement of tents due to wear and tear became prohibitive. Tents were replaced by temporary single-brick and asbestos-roof shelters with a life span of 7-10 years. Budget constraints led to indefinite extension of their life wherein the cost of maintenance eventually became more than the original cost and over 20 years, the total cost was more than the cost of permanent accommodation.

The only difference after the creation of the DMA seems to be that the services now have to deal with ill-thought-out orders issued by the same old bureaucracy, though in a new avatar. The letter was signed by an ‘under secretary’ conveying the orders of “Secretary, DMA & CDS” – ironically, a demotion in status for a former Chief of Army Staff who ranks above a secretary to the government of India.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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32 COMMENTS

  1. Long time back I had read an article on how to kill your car. It was an advisory article on good maintenance of a car. Here, we are an actual situation on “How to kill an Army” created by our rupee foolish CDS. Surely he will achieve his goal by being Pisa wise and you said.

  2. Creation of CDS has been a disaster due to wrong choice of the incumbent.I have yet to meet a military person who has said anything good about Bipin Rawat.He was a disaster in the making from the rank of Colonel onwards.No one saw it coming.Infantry rejoiced when outstanding officer like Parveen Bakshi was superceded by a relegated subordinate.It was not victory of Infantry over Mechanised forces or Armoured corps.Many Army offrs and agencies and politicians must have manipulated to keep the best man out of race.Now the chicken have come home to roost.In his next two years plus,CDS will destroy the armies ability to fight.No one will have courage to give it on his face except ,maybe ,Navy guys.He will succeed and strike at the core values of regimentation.He will cherish if offrs and jco rank suffer and rough it out.By the time he leaves,he would have done so much damage to the Army that,God forbid,if next CDS is not from Army,no amount of effort by next chiefs would be sufficient to restore the health of many Army institutions.Some one must meet Prime Minister and apprise him of damageGen Bipin is doing to the Army morale
    Surgical strike political fame cannot give him a carte blanche to pass any order without it being contested by Army commanders at least.While I totally agree with views expressed by General Panag,I feel someone must sound the Prime Minister about about likely damage and steps be taken to stop his brainwaves within the confines of his brainonly.

  3. Hats off to your article Sir. I share the same views. BIRA has overtaken Ayatulla Khumaini and he would push Indian Army about 20 yrs back in time.

  4. Does the CDS have any thing for Veterans ?If he has then bring Dte of Ex – Servicemen Welfare under DMA & look at the way DESW has treated the Veterans.
    The other org. to come under DMA is CGDA.

  5. General Panag understands the Army and knows how it functions , the way it operates and the way it has remained one of the best professional armies in the world.
    Fully endorse his professional views . Hats off Sir!!!
    This idiot of a CDS has already screwed the happiness of the army as Chief.
    He is a very slimy character who is only looking for furtherance of his career and plump Government Posts for rest of his life or till BJP Government is in power.
    I hope our present chief stands up to the traditions, ethos and culture of the armed force more than 300 years old on which they have been built!!!
    Else we are bound to become chocolate army like the US.
    Looks like BJP too is bent on screwing the happiness of the armed force!!!

    • I share the same views. BIRA has overtaken Ayatulla Khumaini and he would push Indian Army about 20 yrs back in time.

  6. It’s high time to re-order our fiscal priorities. A major chunk of money goes to armed forces and substantial portion wasted on non-essential activities.

  7. I am in favour of CDS sir. This strategic approach not only build a strong bonding of working culture between officers ,JCO,s and other ranks but also create a healthy environment for leadership. Ego clash of officers will reduce automatically. We performe many defence exercise with other devloped countries we should adopt not only defence strategies but also their working culture. Than only modernization of defence is possible. By only getting advance weapons we can’t be progressive but also we have to cop with timely changing environment. Definately news are coming in light of misbehave by officers with JWAN for satisfaction of their ego. So there is need of complete check on this type of behavior. It is also economical beneficial. For better and Fruitful use of space and manpower is a need of time.

  8. It is fashionable on the part of people without accountability to criticise persons who are constrained by requirements of discipline.
    I would believe that the villain of the piece is the bureaucracy which have no accountability for results.
    In any decision making process the axe falls on the General and the politician, the latter being guided by the bureaucrat.
    It is high time that we undertake an audit of the function of the ministry.

  9. This is a good step to get rid of the policies of discrimination…the dining of lower n higher in a single mess will build the connection n confidence…huge buildings n staff on the name of messes r under utilised…good thing for the armed forces… But the point of time garage for the armoured and other vehicles is not justified…the aircrafts need proper hangers…tin sheds r not the solutions… hangers r to b build with latest technology so that they last at least for 20 yrs… Thanks

  10. This is a good step to get rid of the policies of discrimination…the dining of lower n higher in a single mess will build the connection n confidence…huge buildings n staff on the name of messes r under utilised…good thing for the armed forces…

  11. For the first time I am in agreement with the general. I had tried this out in my unit for having one cook house between two companies. Bases was shortage of fuel since a large number of men were staying with families, coy cook houses were catering for only 40 men or so were always running short of fuel for the hearth. At times they resorted to cutting trees surreptitiously. The unit was sharing the building with another one- we were on the ground floor and they on the first. We had two officers dining and they had one. I proposed running of one mess to my YOs but idea was rejected outright. On my relinquishing command, the first thing done was reverting to status quo anti for cook houses on the very next day. In Delhi Cantt alone there are over 20 messes representing regimental fiefdoms. I think the start should v come from here then from field formations for which the author has rightly mentioned operational reasons to get ready within 24 hours. A deeper study is needed and via media needs to be found to achieve optimal economy within operational readiness needs.
    There are other issues which can help economy. Scales of accommodation especially area allotted for each unit needs revision. A rational study can reduce this requirement by at least 30% utilising the land so acrueing for monetisation to meet operational monetary requirements. A very deep study will be required. One has often seen that it requires tremendous effort to guard lands not really being utilised presently or for future. The study will make DEO redundant and stations can do the needful.
    Inventories of our old depots and equipment as per CES needs study. Depots are definitely holding stor redundant to the organisation which can be scrapped out. CESs study may also make a few thing redundant. While commanding my Bde in Punch, I happen to visit the workshop which required 20 vehicle loads for shift in the field area. Was amazed to see them carrying wheel drums of Shaktiman ( phased out by then )still since these were scaled to them. On orders 5-7 vehicle loads were backloaded.
    CDS needs to study such major things and not what is being implemented. Surely the status has been compromised!

  12. The slow death process of traditions in Armed forces have started. Also along with it will go the sentiments of ‘some one better than average’. God bless the Indian Armed forces.

  13. Unconvincing criticism just for the sake is dangerous. Having common messes is a step in the right direction. Apart from ensuring savings to the Exchequer it provides an opportunity to our Armed Forces to move away from the straight jacket and stiffness inherited from the British. A Chow way of life, as in US Army, should be encouraged. Officers, JCOs and ORs need to dine together in the same mess. This way our flag ranks would be more aware of the ground situation.

  14. Sir OG bureaucrats tend to project themselves as more Christian than the Pope, hence more harmful for the est. Very many examples abound. Dilution in status of COAS by the retiring Chiefs is no hair raiser. Some have become junior MPs, some occupying posts tenable by jt secys…

  15. Gen Panag is spot on. By the way, what about reforms in the Defence civilians organizations , the real white elephants?

    • Has not govt. recently abolished many posts of Col, Brigadiers n others in Delhi? They were more than sitting capacity of Sena Bhawan.

  16. What a gross let down by Bipin Rawat. Don’t know whether to address him as Gen or Mr, neither seem to fit. Degradation of self and Armed Forces seem his forte.

  17. The present goings on in the top echelons of forces is telling example of what happens when a system is geared towards promoting “yes men” rather than “men of substance or mettle”. The present triservices boss in his eagerness to curry favour and ensure his upward mobility has ended up selling himself and his organisation. Little does he realise the his new masters will throw him into the dustbin once their job is done and his brethren will have nothing but contempt for someone of his ilk!!
    The pity is Sir, the present lamentable leadership is a product of the leaders of your era!!!!!

  18. I hope CDS Rawat, I will not like to call him General, is out to ruin Army. As PM, come from a state not contributing much in terms of forces, perhaps he can not fathom the idiocity of his suggestions. May good sense prevail.

  19. It is highly regrettable that that to save a penny , you want to spend a pound in the long run. I will take just only one example of keeping the Armoured Vehicles under tin roof without hard standing. Just because the tank is sturdy like a Rhino externally, it can withstand extremes of cold, hot and dusty condition. Being an infantry man, he does not know the tank has rubber parts sealing very critical equipment including the filters designed to keep the nuclear, biological and chemical agents from entering inside. There are other seals radio equipment, external antenna. The dust will call for frequent changes of engine filters . The air intake has to come from outside. The engine life will be reduced so will be the life of barrel due to ingress of dust. In fact, except for training vehicles, there was a time when other tanks were kept under deep preservation. If you keep the heavily greased vehicles in dusty and hot environment as envisaged by these nitwits, it will turn into a grinding paste. The costly tanks will need frequent overhauls to replace it’s rubber parts. Unfortunately, the technical officers are not asked to give opinion and if they say something sensible they are brushed aside.

  20. Rawat is a disaster. Has been so for some years now. But if Indians can keep smiling under Modi, I see no reason why they shouldn’t under Rawat? What can he damage; we’re already in the pits. By now, India has learnt to live with total idiots as top level leaders.

  21. Very interesting article, especially for a non-forces reader like me. I wonder if pursuing “egalitarianism” only for economic benefits can be wise in the armed services. Here, physical distancing between an officer and junior ranks, non-reachability of the former as a routine, go a long way in establishing the AWE in the minds of the latter. This is at the root of creating an aura of blind obedience/respect/discipline in the minds of the juniors. We must not forget that they are expected to obey orders even at the clear risk of putting their lives at stake. How many officers are capable of generating such blind affection and respect as Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was? 99.99% of the officers at all levels of seniority have to hide behind physical distancing and non-reachability. So I wonder how effective or risky this “economic” idea of common messes for officers, JCOs and other ranks will be, where they will actually be rubbing shoulders with each other in real life.

    Gen Panag has a point when he says, “.. The only difference after the creation of the DMA seems to be that the services now have to deal with ill-thought-out orders issued by the same old bureaucracy, though in a new avatar.” I also like his rephrasing an old proverb as, “Paisa wise, rupee foolish”. This is Modi government for you!

    • I think you havent got it right my friend. There is no physical distancing and non reachability. Wonder where do you work. Does your boss eat with you? We in the Army are very close with our troops. We even follows their customs and traditions in our units. Where you miss the larger part is that when deployed in operational areas the troops are spread over and at that time we have to establish more than half a dozen cook houses to provide hot and wholesome food. So how will that be done with the reduction. It sounds easy to say go and eat in one place. We get up at 4 30 or 5 am — Officers are on various duties, everyone doesnt go to the mess at the same time. Time for each officer varies. In a single mess such issues will not be handled. Half the time the guys will not get their breakfast. It may sound nice on paper but on ground realities are different. We cant follow American patterns since we are not the American Army.

      • When a Lt. General is having a drink in the army club in the evening, can a Major or a Captain go and sit in his group? I don’t know if you are a Lt. Col. or a full Col., many of the former rank have a habit of calling themselves a “Col.”, but even if you are a full Col, can YOU go and sit in the same circle? This is what I mean by “physical distancing”. About “non-reachability”: no matter how serious or urgent or just is your grievance about some matter, can you bypass your Brigadier and “directly reach” the COAS? Never mind where I work, or worked. In our workplace we used to address our seniors by their initials, and crack sex jokes with them.

  22. When General V P Malik visited Israel on an official tour, his wife travelled with him. She had her independent schedule during the day, her car was driven by a woman soldier and her escort was a lady officer. When they stopped for a meal, all three women ate together, carried their own water bottles. The only army chief who would live in such regal splendour as ours would be Pakistan’s. Not Britain’s or America’s for sure. Very happy that Surgeon CDS Rawat has started using his scalpel. He will find layers of fat to excise without cutting muscle. Austerity has come to India, the virus hastening the process. It is not just the dove in me but the fiscal hawk who would be happy to see deep cuts in military spending.

    • Would love to know if the same austerity is applied to his personal regalia during his time.in service till now. If not he has no right to demand such austerity now. If yes then am fully in support of his endeavour!!!

    • If one talks of cutting the flab: each and every personnel in armed forces, there must be more than 12 lakhs of them because that is the figure for the army alone, gets subsidized eggs, meat, milk, grains, stuff of daily need, plus of course, booze. Why? Are armed forces paid miserly? I don’t think so. They retire early ; but after retirement, a service man’s entire family gets FREE MEDICAL help for their entire lives. Why? Is medical aid cheap? Or do they get miserly pension? I don’t think so.
      Any rationalization in these fields will save lakhs of crores. Why fiddle with eating arrangements and completely destroy the “officer-awe” in the eyes of all personnel which can DRASTICALLY UNDERMINE THE DISCIPLINE. General Panag has correctly called it, paisa wise rupee foolish.

  23. I am in total agreement with General Panag! Although, I was an RMO of an Infantry Battalion of a new raising and also in the Field area; therefore, the Officers Mess that I shared with my brother officers was no match to the Officers Messes of many other units that I come across. My unit is soon going to be 50 and I have visited it twice since then and I would not feel pleased if the Independent and moving units are made to sacrifice their messes for the combined mess of the station.
    This would amount to old Infantry Units permanently shifting some of their treasures for good to their centres that too will become the Officers Mess of that centre.

    With regret, I take the liberty of saying that Gen Rawat, since he took over as the Chief and now as the CDS, has more often been making calls and even decisions that I think his own unit 5/11 GR, I have visited the Officers Mess and its very great officers with whom I have had the opportunity would have appreciated or would appreciate.

  24. Even his critics who had low expectations of him in a strategic role wished Rawat well as India’s first CDS thinking at least his political skills will be well used to hammer out compromises between the services. The sporadic, disjointed and illogical attempts at creating Theater Commands has raised concerns., the Navy is rightly unimpressed by a landlubber General trying to impose Peninsular thinking and taking away the 3rd aircraft carrier. IAF is on its own trip as usual so now we have a supposedly tri-services CDS involving himself largely in his own parent service on admin issues.

    Doubtless, many of these issues need addressing but by the services themselves as part of a larger strategic roadmap of rationalization and streamlining. Unfortunately since there is no strategic thinking even on such issues we will now see monthly admin orders being issued while our main adversary China carriers out real reform and transformation of its once moribunf military.

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